Blog #7 – Cartagena to Ceuta

Ah, Spain. Nice town is Cartagena. It looks like they get a lot of boat traffic and visitors from all over. Much more a tourist destination than dear old Patras will ever be. It was nice to have some showers, do some laundry, go out to a restaurant and spend some time in a café with sinfully good baking to catch the blog up. But our stay was short.

















Another day, another 35 knot wind. We had a serious look at the weather and decided that if we left Cartagena early in the morning, when the 40 plus knot craziness had subsided, we could ease our way up the coast and then at the next significant promontory make a dash for the south where the wind was forecast to be light. This would have us sailing three sides of a rectangle to get to Gibraltar but avoiding the highest winds. We got up at 2.30 am, visited the self-serve fuel dock for diesel (directions for which took an advanced degree in commerce and probability to decipher) and headed out around 4. The weatherman said 25 knot winds, which we’re getting rather used to lately, but we have noted that the estimates tend to be low. We motored, then sailed but the usual head wind had us off the coast sooner than we wanted. Also, there seemed to be a current that was slowing us down but we have no functioning knot meter – only gps speed over the ground – so with nothing to compare that to we can only guess at the currents. In any event we did head south and weren’t astonished when the 25 knot wind eased its way up into the 30s in gusts. From about 3.30 pm till after midnight we banged around in that. I was so tired, not having slept much, that I went to bed around 11 and slept (sort of) till 2. Then Alex and I managed the now 25 and diminishing wind till we got to the coast of Morocco. As advertized, light winds, some sailing, but a whole lot of motoring.


Bienvenue au Morocco and the town of Al-Hoceima


But more wind to come. On the afternoon of March 4th, to avoid more high wind, we pulled in to Al-Hoceima to anchor. We chose the anchor, 1) because we hadn’t anchored yet and wanted to make sure the winch and its parts were functioning properly before we really need them and 2) to avoid bothering with port authorities. Not so fast mister. The port called us up and said we had to come into the marina and show our passports. Pretty soon we had a very polite and pleasant team of police and authority guys, even a sniffer pooch who wanted to see inside the boat, so we were tied up till about 6 pm waiting out the blow. And the exit protocols had us thinking we were back in Greece. Stamp this, stamp that, “I’ll be back in ten minutes with something else to stamp.” Where Spain had said “Leave when you want,” these guys had it down to the minute and documents all over the place.


It turned out to be a good plan. We had a lovely sail into the evening right on course for the sharp end of the Mediterranean south of Gibraltar. After midnight (when I was in bed) the wind increased and then backed into a head wind in the usual Mediterranean fashion. Between that and the current (at this point tide charts are giving us a clearer idea of what’s happening there) we weren’t getting anywhere without the motor, so motor we did until the small town of Ceuta. This is a Spanish town but on the African coast directly opposite Gibraltar. We arrived in really fierce wind and waves, still motoring but reduced to one knot in speed by the sheer force of it. Sylvain even considered a tack across the mouth to Gibraltar if we couldn’t make port – it was close – but make it we did. It is an odd little port (GoogleEarth it) because the city is on a narrow strip of an isthmus with water on both sides and more land to its east.

Sorry no action shots but I wasn’t taking my remaining camera out to get doused. And holding on seemed to be a better strategy. The wind stayed high the rest of the day (gusting to over 40 knots).

To leave we have to go at either 9 am or pm (we’re choosing pm) to catch the falling tidal current. Think of 2 to 3 feet of vertical tide for the entire Mediterranean Sea having to exit a 14 mile wide gap from here to Gibraltar. That’s why the current is a good thing to have in our favour.

And from here? While we were in Patras, whenever I could use the internet I would look, dreamy-eyed, at and see the lovely following winds of 15 to 20 knots heading southwest from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. “Oh to be there,” I would say to myself, “Then this delay will seem all worthwhile.” From the Canaries those lovely trade winds carry on west driving any lucky mariner ahead of it. But now that we’re here to take advantage of those winds after slogging our way down the mighty Med, a second big Atlantic low pressure system is spoiling everything. It might take a week for it to run its course, so we plan to head out this evening to more of the same – adverse wind here, favourable wind there, and once we get excited about that, no wind at all. It was 1500 miles from Patras to here, though we estimate we’ve covered closer to 2000 with all the tacking, and certainly used the motor far more than expected. From here to the Canaries is about 690 miles. Winds are expected to be less adverse and certainly less violent than we have experienced so far, but no one’s expecting a nice spinnaker run for days at a time gobbling up mile after mile. Right now the trade winds are even reversed, but by the time we get to the Canaries, where we will pick up one, and possibly two new crew members, hopefully that will be back to normal.

That’s sailing. You get what you get and deal with it. I have always liked to say that it’s not what happens to you in life, but how you deal with what happens to you in life, that counts. In the book I’m reading right now I discovered that Nelson Mandela used to say the same thing. How he heard it from me I don’t know (!) but it’s nice to see that the great man agreed.

I’ve read with interest your comments. Thanks for following this crazy voyage. I have hesitated to speak of my crew mates but they are amazing people. Obviously patient beyond words, in the present circumstance, but doing all the cooking between them with such culinary skill that I’m afraid to compete. Their attention to detail and energy in dealing with the boat’s needs are remarkable. They immediately tackle anything that isn’t working properly until it is. There is nary a complaint nor a harsh word, and always someone ready to help when the winching gets too hard or the sleep can no longer be put off. It’s easy to be confident about our plans when there is such skill aboard along with a very healthy respect for the sea and what it can do. I’ll be in touch from the Canaries, assuming that’s our next stop. My very best wishes to you all.

2 thoughts on “Blog #7 – Cartagena to Ceuta”

  1. Encore un WOW!!! And I can’t help saying again what an adventure of a lifetime this is – and hope a book will come out of it. Gosh, Al – I’m so happy for you!!

  2. Sounds like a very trying and tiring voyage but certainly a worthwhile once in a lifetime journey. Its great that you have the same philosophy as Nelson Mandela did. Continue to enjoy the ride!

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